It goes without saying that the original Neverwinter Nights was an outstanding success both with the critics and sales of the game. It is still widely played to this day, and has shown that not only is it a fantastic game, but it has longevity to the extreme too. Neverwinter Nights 2 was naturally going to come out sooner or later, but it sure had a great name to live up to.
When my copy of Neverwinter Nights 2 arrived in the post on release day, patch 1.01 was already live, and it wasn't long until 1.02 was out. This was the patch I played with for most of the game, so I shall review the game based on my experiences in 1.02.
Starting at the beginning, the character creation system is much the same as the original game, but with more options/races etc. There was nothing majorly wrong with the character creation system in NWN, and I guess they wanted to keep it the same, but in my personal opinion, there did seem to be a few things lacking here. For example the ability to shape the face, adjust the body shape etc, things that are starting to become more commonplace in other games. Overall the character creation system is very solid and easy to use, although it can seem quite complicated to the inexperienced. Thankfully however, there are "Recommend" buttons if you cant decide what to pick, and very thorough descriptions of just about everything.
One of the first things you notice when you get into actually playing the game, and get used to the controls is the camera angles. Now I should explain that there are four main types of camera angles in the game currently, and several other options relating to these camera angles. However, none of these feels natural at all, and this has been one of the biggest gripes about the game by many people. I decided to persist with the game despite this, and things did improve slightly, and I got used to it, however, it never felt right, and I often found myself fiddling with the camera modes.
I also for the life of me could not find any option for redefining keys, this was only a slight problem for me in the beginning of the game thankfully, and it was only one or two keys that I wished to change which I got used to eventually. I would assume that this isn't the case for everyone tho, and people who wished to redefine them, were pretty much stuck.
A third problem I had early one, and a potential game stopping one for me was the non-changeable save directory. The game saves are automatically saved in your "My Documents" folder, and this could not be changed in the version of the game I was playing. After looking this up I found that it was apparently due to making the game work with Windows Vista, and the save files there. My C: is a 10Gb partition just for the OS and a few other things, so the large NWN2 saves quickly clogged it up and I got a cannot save due to lack of space message. However, after much forum checking I was able to move my "My Documents" folder to another partition and that seemed to work fine. A little over the top for my tastes however.
When you start the game there is a nice optional tutorial mode. This will teach you the basics of pretty much everything in the game with useful help boxes and thorough descriptions of everything. It also sets up the story fairly nicely, although it could be considered quite a slow start for many too.
The combat and general skills in the game seem to follow the D&D rule set far closer than the original, and this came out very well in the game play. I could actually see myself willing to play a homemade or downloaded campaign online with friends as a D&D style scenario with DM etc. The combat is enjoyable, although can get a bit repetitive after a while. Thankfully there are plenty of new skills and spells to learn, use and cast in and out of battle which makes it more enjoyable
The campaign is very well made and thought out, on the surface it seems to have a lot of variation as to how the storyline plays out, but if you were to delve deeper or play it again with a different character, you would still find yourself doing much the same things. Saying that the campaign is HUGE! I completely forgot the game was split into acts when after quite a way through I was suddenly on Act 2, and here was me thinking I was coming to the end! In all I would say that the campaign lasted me somewhere in the region of 60-100 hours (I lost track of time somewhere during those sleepless nights), although I am a "completionist" type of player who likes to do and get everything possible (annoyingly). So this game will defiantly last the distance in terms of length of the main campaign.
In terms of actual storyline, it was great in some points and drawn out over others, however overall I would have to say I enjoyed it. Compared with the three main campaigns from the original game and two expansions I would have to say that this is only my second favourite to Hordes of the Underdark, but not by far. You are made to feel part of the story through the various events that take place, and as in many RPGs, the world does revolve around you and your actions. It is generally quite predictable in most parts as to how the story will evolve, but not all. There are apparently two love interests in the game, one for male characters and one for females, but to me this did seem very tacked on and had little if any bearing on the rest of the story. Mind you I would guess that there would be differing views on weather this was a good thing or not!
The Graphics in Neverwinter Nights 2 are superb, there is detail and some very impressive spell effects. Everything seems top notch in terms of the look and feel of the game here, and it really sets the scene well. However, there is a big downside to this in terms of performance. Up until now my PC has pretty much been able to take anything that’s thrown at it on max graphics in dual screen mode, for a recent example Dark Messiah of Might and Magic ran very smooth. Naturally there was eventually going to come a time when something would hit the limit of what my rig could run at full, this is the rapid pace of development in the computer industry as we all know. However, it wasn't so much that my PC struggled to run NWN2 at full, it was how much it was struggling. Even with almost all of the advanced features turned off it still gave me a handful of system lag.
I did manage to get it running fairly smooth in windowed/dual screen mode (NWN2 on one screen, other stuff on the 2nd) on my PC after quite a bit of tinkering with the settings however. Also I did run it in full screen in single screen mode a few times, and the performance was very smooth, although still not at full graphics. I would say the lesson here is, you do need a fairly modern PC to run NWN2, and you can't expect to run it perfectly with all the extra graphical features etc. I am sure that the top end graphics have been designed to ensure the game lasts a good few years on the gamers' desktop, with all the extra campaigns to download from official and non-official sources the graphics will still hold up to future games, and they probably will. However, that wont be much comfort to those without a decent PC, my advice would be to look carefully at the system specs before buying and if you are around the minimum specs to keep in mind that it will lag a little.
The sound of the game I thought was very well put together. The music sounds professional but also fitting to the scenes, and the sound effects all sounded naturally placed. I didn't really have any problems with the voice acting, although in terms of options in the character creation of voice sets for your character, I would have liked to seen more there. There were basically the same ones from the original NWN, and a few more, but not in really significant numbers. Also while the music was fitting and well produced, there are a limited number of scores, and you do start getting a lot of repetitive music after 50+hours of game play.
In terms of value I would say Neverwinter Nights 2 is defiantly worth it's cost. However, only if you have the PC to run it. It is a great follow on game to the original, and lives up to and even surpasses it. There are a lot of frustrating bugs and issues still in the game, but keep in mind that it is a very detailed and long game, and they did get 99% of things working fine. Its just those annoying things I mentioned earlier like the camera angles and also small things like characters with invisible feet or getting stuck in terrain and having to reload your last save which can be annoying on the occasions it happens. (Do save very often if you play the game, the quick save is there for a reason).
I have only messed around with the editor for the game a little, but enough to get a feel for it. It is very detailed and you can do a lot with it if you know what you are doing. I am sure much like the success of the original, there will be thousands among thousands of superb top notch player-made downloadable campaigns to play before too long has passed. However, it can be quite complicated to do a lot of the more detailed things, much like the original one was. Overall it is defiantly a leap over the original in terms of flexibility and design.
Compared to another great modern editor of similar aim also released this year, Ryzom Ring, a scenario builder for the Ryzom MMORPG, I would say it does have some advantages and disadvantages. With the Ryzom Ring, it is quite simple to pick up and do some amazing things with, a lot easier than say doing the same sort of things in the NWN2 toolset. However, the NWN2 toolset is far more detailed, and allows for far more flexibility. There are advantages to both systems, obviously they are designed for different types of game and are used in different ways. However, for the budding wannabe games programmer out there, both systems have advantages. The Ring is great to understand how to do complex things in a simple way, but the NWN2 toolset is more like the real thing, at a higher level of complexity. I guess if you wanted to you could even make your own demi-MMO out of the NWN2 toolset, I have heard of some successful ones made with the original game so I see no reason why this could not be repeated here. So the NWN2 toolset is a powerful beast, very flexible, but it can be complicated too.
Overall Neverwinter Nights 2 stands up to the great name of the original game, and in this writer's opinion to the world of D&D as a whole. There is a fantastic story and lots of lore for those who enjoy that sort of thing, superb combat, and of course the toolset adds that extra element both in extending your options, and giving you a world of new campaigns to play online and offline. The issues and bugs with the game do let it down quite a bit unfortunately, but from what I have seen the Devs seem to be listening to peoples views and hopefully it will be a far more solid game in a few patches time.
Graphics: 9 - Very good, although need a very good PC to run them fully
Sound: 9 - Adds a good level of immersion to the game play, although can get repetitive mostly due to the game length.
Game play: 8 - Very enjoyable game, although let down by it's issues and bugs in many places, great storyline and lore gained from the D&D universe.
Value: 10 - Definitely worth the cost if your PC will run the game, with the long campaign and thousands of new campaigns the toolset will throw up from willing writers like the first game, this game could last you many years (at least until NWN3).
Overall: 9 - Good solid game, there is little doubting it will be a commercial success for a while yet.